A Travellerspoint blog

Farwell Africa

overcast 23 °C

Last day in Africa. Thank you for a lesson on perseverance. We started our trek home with a leisurely morning where Ger zipped off and got an African style buzz cut, I got my hair washed and dried (yes, "thank you Karen" Ger is quipping) and we did some last minute 'touristy stuff ' shopping. We ended with a splendid lunch on Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton and one final South African bottle of wine.

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Johannesburg has really surprised me, I expect a lot more shanties and gates around houses. While they do exist it is really quite a bit more picturesque than I had anticipated. Jo'burg is well aware it is has bad rap for crime and is just a pass-through for tourists so it has dedicated some resources to try to change that image. There are cameras on every corner of downtown streets and all South Africans are fingerprinted (there has been some debate among the four of us whether that would fly at home, I think it is a good idea myself.)

Jo'burg is the largest city in South Africa, and the largest city in the world not situated on a body of water (river, lake, ocean). According to survey the population is around 10 mm, likely add another 5 mm at least to include all the unknown millions that live in the shanties or informal housing. Well we didn't spend much time out of our bubble (our hotel is one of 3 on Nelson Mandela Square which is also connected to a mall) we felt safe an welcome the entire time.

We were met at 1pm for our tour of Soweto, a separate city untill the 1990's. The name is an acronym for "South-Western-Townships," or an informal nickname for "So where to next?".

The area is home to over 4 mm people 96% black. It is odd and slightly uncomfortable given our upbringing in Canada to hear people so easily referred to as Black, Coloured or Indian but it rolls of the tongue here with no malice intended. The area was started in 1886 when people moved to work on the nearby Gold Mines (the gold mines were basically in the center of town and the tailings are still very visible (large table mountain like structures)).

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The gold mine was a big part of history for Jo'Burg making it a wealthy city (mines have moved now although the local amusement park has a ride that allows you to go 200 m below ground down an old shaft). In 1904 British controlled cities moved Blacks to the area following a reported outbreak of plague.

Soweto suffered many tragedies over the years but was thrust into the world's attention June 16, 1976 when government police open fired on a group of students (young students) 600 students were shot including one minor Hector Pieterson who was just in the wrong spot at the wrong time. We visited the site of the shootings and the Hector Pieterson museum a sobering dose of reality.

Soweto was also home to Nelson Mandela for various periods in his life and Winne Mandela still resides there (we drove by her house) also Desmond Tutu lived down the street from Mr. Mandela at one period. Pretty sure that is the first street I have driven down with tiny houses (under 1,000 sq ft) where Nobel Peace Prize Recipients lived.

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Our final stop was at the Regina Mundi Church, located in Rockville, Soweto it played a key role as a place of gathering during the anti-apartheid struggle. It houses a "Black Madonna" created in 1973 to help raise funds for African education. It contains a highly symbolic element which is a large eye under the Black Madonna, which represents the Township of Soweto, with two forks representing the violence against the people and the cross in the middle to illuminate hope. Several famous political leaders have visited the Church including the Mandela several times, Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton, and Michelle Obama.

The whole afternoon reminded of these people's struggles and while you look at the shanties you see just past them then revitalized state-of-the-art soccer stadium (from the World Cup in 2010) and are reminded they still have along ways to come. I am again reminded of how grateful I am that I was born in Canada.

We boarded our 9 pm flight and I managed to sleep almost the whole way to London (yay, me). We have almost 8 hours of a layover so I booked a couple rooms at the airport Hilton and Ger and I slept another 4, showered and feel human, ready to board our next 8 hour flight home. The only hiccup is I forgot to grab my shoes before my checked luggage was tagged straight to YYC. Whoops, so I will be the idiot in sandals coming off the plane in minus 17. Dumb ass.

It has been an amazing journey. I learned so much, have many great memories (and more than a couple extra pounds). I am constantly reminded when we travel how special Canada is (even the wintery crap we are headed back to).

I am so grateful I could share this with my parents and we all have our health and wits to survive 3 weeks together. A special thanks to Ger for hanging out with 3 Greenalls for so long. My mind has shifted to looking forward to getting home to my dogs and horses (thanks Austin).

Next stop is Arizona in Feb for a half marathon and a horse show (perfect combination) after that Ger and I are still toying with ideas. My list had a couple additions (again) this trip. We survived a couple long flights with layovers so I won't be so scared to try them again.

Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 04:49 Archived in South Africa

Hakuna Matata

overcast 23 °C

Well a year to plan and book (thank you again Tara) and 3 weeks to experience it, both seemed to pass quickly. I had spent some time thinking today the most valuable resource we have is time and no matter how much wealth you have you can't buy more. So use it wisely.

Yesterday was a little less 'bootcamp' with a relatively quiet game drive in the morning, a long nap before lunch and a 3 pm departure before the afternoon game drive. The morning drive was beautiful but no really exhilarating sightings, a couple jackals up close and more of the same (impalas, baboons, giraffe). We joined a local family (this was not their first game drive and the husband was an excellent spotter) for the afternoon game drive and karma blessed us. We were able to see all 4 of Chobe's Big 4 (elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard (no rhinos here)).

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We started with an elephant sighting, it was lightly raining so they were out to enjoy it. On our last trip to Africa, the warthogs and their silly ways made an impression on me, this time it was the elephant. Absolutely spell bounding to watch in nature. They crossed the road in front of us wandered into the bush and disappeared (gives you an idea how thick and lush it is here, the bush can hide elephants and they are not small). The elephants walk silently it is so surreal and peaceful to watch (and ride). They have cushions (Nike Air) on the bottoms of their feet that soften any noise, making these massive animals silent as they move.

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Pleased with a chance to watch the elephants we continued onto the "stretching point" for our evening sundowner (aka drink) only to have our guide hustle us back in the ranger for a reason unknown to us (not our first rodeo, we figured it was something good). We sped (instead of 10 km/hr it was more like 20 km/hr) down towards the river and pulled up to see two giant female lions resting on the river banks. It was specular. Oddly though, Shidi, sort of rushed us away from the lions (normally you just sit and watch) and we were back out on the trail. We could see a couple rangers parked ahead on the road and Shidi instructed us to look left at the old tree. Perched up on a thick branch was a leopard, licking her paws. It didn't look like the most comfortable place to partake in a bath but Shidi figured it was due to the close proximity of the lions (lions kill leopards). It made for a great evening game drive.

The buffalo are sighted almost everywhere here so while we saw them we didn't stop to watch them for any extended period of time. We also were able to see some hippos out of the water (they like cool temperatures) which prompted me to wonder why they aren't part of the Big 5 (I mean a buffalo isn't that exotic, sorry buffalo lovers). Turns out the Big 5 were designated by big game hunters as the most challenging and dangerous to hunt. The buffalo is likely the most dangerous animal to humans of them all as it gives no warning of its charge (elephants and rhinos will head fake so you have a chance to get the hell out of dodge) and kills more locals and farmers than any other animal.

We capped our last evening at the Lodge of with a dinner that included Kudo roast and impala stew (I am not kidding and both are quite tasty) and of course a bottle of local red. Given our flight was not until 2 pm today we were able to enjoy one last 4:30 am wake-up and one final game drive. Yet again, we were not disappointed. While sitting back and just taking in the surroundings (and impalas and baboons...) we turned a corner and came across a pride of lions (5 in total) drinking.

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What an end to our safari adventure. Every drive we experienced was different and wonderful for unique reasons. We returned to the lodge and were shuttled to the little Kasane, Botswana airport for our last stop in Africa before heading home. We are off to Jo-burg for the night and have tomorrow to rest up and a half-day Township and Apartheid Tour (a good dose of reality to leave with) before we depart at 9:45 pm for our overnight flight to London. Getting back to Canada is a bit ugly, we arrive in London at 7 am and don't depart until 4 in the afternoon. I have a couple rooms booked at the Hilton at the airport for the layover so we can at least shower and maybe (hopefully) nap for a couple hours. We leave London at 4 pm Sunday afternoon and arrive in Calgary at 5 pm Sunday evening (I love time travel it is the only way you can buy more time).

I am looking forward to one more fantastic meal and a bottle (or two) of South African wine. Ger is looking forward to one more breakfast with croissants and chocolate before reality sets in and our holiday is over.

So until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 10:29 Archived in Botswana

Happy New Year!

overcast 23 °C

Chobe is beautiful and wet. Rainy season. Summer. Humidity at 1000% percent = very frizzy and unmanageable hair = living in a ball-cap and ponytail.

Our first outing in Chobe was a sunset river cruise which started with an African downpour. Fortunately, downpours only last 30 minutes or so enabling us to wait it out before continuing down the Chobe River. Turns out the river in front of our lodge is also the boundary between Botswana and Namibia and we can see the Namibian Caprivi from our room. Oh and yesterday it was not elephants I was looking at from afar but most likely water buffalo.

Our 2 hour cruise down the river provided us several hippo sightings and one up close and personal crocodile viewing. You could even see her 20+ hatchlings in the water (creepy little things). The river is not for swimming - read more

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If you are a bird enthusiast being on the water provides ample opportunities to see and hear several different species. Our ranger or guide while we are out Chobe is Shidi (pronounced CD) and we have been paired up with a group of Swiss who speak French so watching the translation has been interesting.

We ended the evening with water and a light dinner, who am I kidding, wine and a brimming plateful of chow. Similar to the Kenya and Tanzania lodges, the meals here are buffet and for someone like me with no self restraint meals turn into a lesson in gluttony. I had a ''Greenall moment' whereby I managed to snap the card key off in the door, that provided Ger some late night entertainment at my expense but only delayed my head hitting the pillow by 20 minutes or so.

The am wake-up call was a bit abrupt at 4:30 am this morning as our morning game drive here starts at 5:30 am. Turns out it is well worth the ungodly hour as we came across a rather large hippo out of the water (first one we have seen this close). We were able to follow her down the road for awhile until she became agitated and buggered off (they can run up to 40 km/hr on land). We followed the hippo sighting with a sprint down the road to a pack of African Wild Dogs. Again as this is a National Park it is far more akin to the Masi Mara and Serengeti where all vehicles end up at the interesting animals together versus the Private Game Reserve we were often on our own.

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This was the first time Ger and I have ever seen the African Wild Dogs. The pack had 8 members (9 up until a couple days ago when the lions killed one). We followed them quite awhile as our guide thought they were on the hunt. As they approached the river they managed to corner a lone impala near the water (there are thousands of impalas and baboons in this park, literally thousands). As they circled her and we waited for her demise she leapt gracefully into the water. The dogs had no interest in following her and we watched her swim away. No sooner did I think, "I didn't know impalas could swim she is going to make it...", did she meet her ultimate demise as a crocodile grabbed her and pulled her down. It was a small struggle and while sad, was fascinating to watch Mother Nature at work. The dogs evidently aren't so dumb and knew the water was a dangerous place.

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The wildlife here is different than South Africa even though the terrain is quite similar. There are no rhinos here (poachers killed almost all of them and the rhinos which are left are in Central Botswana heavily guarded) but there are way more impalas, baboons, and water buffalo (at least at first glance, bear in mind my data samples are limited). We have seen giraffes already (a group of 6-10 of them) but no zebras (yet). And while the elephant population is vast here we have not seen any as of yet (we have at least 3 more game drives). The other thing that should be noted is every game drive is different and you have no idea what you will see or miss seeing. It is a lesson in patience and sometimes just watching the birds leads to other great sightings. 51D98AE30986A38926D9AC414E9C85AA.jpg90_51DAFF58BEDCFBCF0D93FAADE96FAC4A.jpg

Our day continued with a quick lunch and back out on the water for our afternoon boat cruise. We sailed a similar route to last night and were able to find many more crocodiles and hippos (for the past two weeks Telus's "I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" has been looping non-stop in my peanut brain. Kudo's (pun intended) to Telus for great branding to bad they don't service Africa) We also go close to a herd (a large of herd) of cape buffalo (the ones I thought were elephants yesterday). 2 hours on the water and our group collectively decided we were on the hunt for lions and elephants. Shidi said we should try the other side of the park which took a bit of driving so instead of 3:30 we agreed to leave at 2:00 pm. Turned into a bit of Greenall bootcamp safari today with 10 hours logged viewing game (the other waking hours were taken by eating). It was well worth the time.

We found a pride of lions and while they were tucked off the road a bit we were able to see them bask in the sunshine (lions are truly lazy). It has become evident how truly spoiled we were in the private reserve where we were able to leave the road to get a closer look. That is strictly forbidden here (same as it is in Banff). We did find the elephants which took far more work than I had anticipated given there are 70k of them in Chobe. Since it is summer and the rainy season it is incredibly lush which makes it challenging to spot wildlife (even elephants can hide). Also this season means the zebras and wildebeests have migrated south so there are none in the park at this time. Lots of giraffe, impalas, and warthogs though. We also came across another first for Ger and I, the Sable Antelope. Imagine Gene Simmons make-up on an antelope with really long horns, I am not kidding. I couldn't get the iphone to take a great picture so I borrowed this one from the internet for you to get an idea of what I am talking about. Really strange beasts.

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Overall a fantastic day, it will be an early night as 4:30 am is coming quickly. Seems the only thing that gets my ass out bed with a 4 handle is travel and animals (wild animals and reining horses that is). We have another marathon day tomorrow although I don't anticipate our afternoon game drive starting a hour and half sooner (so maybe I will grab a nap). It is our last full day of safari as we wind down our Africa adventure. The following day we head to Jo-burg to start our long trek home.

A very special New Year for us, best wishes for everyone to have a safe, happy 2015!

Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 11:21 Archived in Botswana

The Most Magnificent Beast

semi-overcast 30 °C

I am spoilt, I know that. I have had the opportunity to pursue a lot of my dreams and I am grateful for that. Yesterday I crossed another one of the bucket list. The elephant safari. The rain stopped and we drove about 30 minutes from our lodge where we met our guide for the afternoon. He sat the 12 of us in a circle and spent 30 minutes or so explaining the place we were at and each of the 10 elephants that reside there.

The conservation recused 4 of their elephants from a cull that occurred 20 years ago to manage an ever increasing elephant population (territory was getting smaller and the numbers were too large for the area to sustain). Another 4 had been orphaned during a terrible drought Zambia suffered and were unlikely to survive on their own. 2 have been born on the conservation and are in training and they have two babies that follow their mothers on game rides (one 11 months old and one only 7 months, elephant babies are cute!). Each elephant has a role in the herd and a personality. They are treated like royalty, with a large area to graze and are fed supplements which increases their life expectancy from 50 years in the wild to 70 (elephants do not have great digestive systems and eat a lot of bark to help aide their digestion. The bark and branches cause tooth decay and as they age it becomes difficult for them to feed properly.) The elephants are slowly trained for the safari (takes a couple years) and it is a pressure and reward system. I was shocked at how many voice commands the elephants knew (whoa, right, left, salute, trunk up ...) and each time they did a command correctly the trunk was up searching for a handful of treats (a dietary pellet with grain and molasses).

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The elephant is a magnificent beast. Great mothers, long memories, smart, and they walk with this slow, lumbering cadence that is hard to describe (our handler said they can run as well, up to 35 km/hr). Riding on top of one was truly a thrill. I fell in love with our elephant, Mashumbi, the herd matriarch. Mashumbi was followed closely by her 11 month old baby (damn cute). I fed Mashumbi treats from above, the outside of trunk, rough and the inside soft and slimy. The trunk can hold up to a 1.5-2 litres of water and it took a significant handful of the treats to appease her. I scratched her ears or 'air conditioning' as they constantly flap to cool themselves and ward of bugs.

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We (with our amazing handler, Kennedy) rode around the park for a hour, stopping for the 'Kodak' moment (hard to believe Kodak is gone with that branding power) and to let her drink in the Zambezi River (that was a strange feeling as she stepped down into the water). After viewing the wildlife from a top we disembarked they use platforms the elephants walk up beside which makes mounting and dismounting easier) and we proceeded to feed our mounts. I was having a blast filling and scratching her trunk when our handler said to me tell her "trunk up". Well "trunk up" means feed her directly in her mouth. Let me tell you the moment she opened her mouth, stuck her tongue out for treats upon which I was told to stick my hand in her mouth to feed her, I did not lolly gag around. Holy shit they have big molars! Ger wanted a friggin picture and was asking me to turn around and look the camera. The 'Kodak' moment was lost as I was more interested in keeping my arm. I have seen elephant eat branches and had no intent of letting my limb become one. She was kind to me and was slow in closing her huge jaws and immediately her trunk started rubbing me searching for more treats (I have the elephant snot on my shirt to prove it). Elephants have crappy eyesight (great hearing and nose obviously) but the softest, biggest, brown eyes I have ever had the honour of looking into. The afternoon was a highlight for me by far.

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We finished our evening in Zambia with a devine meal at the lodge restaurant. We all had the game shoulder which was Kudu (one the many local antelope) and a glass (or two) of fine local wine. Zambia was a great stop on our adventure. It is not as cheap as South Africa as their currency (Kwacha) is not as freely trading (exchange to USD was 6.2) while not London expensive it was akin to being home where a decent wine is 20-30 bucks (not like SA where it was 5-10).

Today was a leisurely start with a 10 am pick-up via a shuttle to the Zambezi where we left Zambia (a very busy and crazy African style border) hopped a private speed boat jetty, zipped across the river and landed in Botswana (a more tame and less crowded border). We are now at Chobe Game Lodge, the only permanent lodge in Chobe National Park (this park is huge, 11,400 square km). The park was founded in 1966 and the lodge first built in 1974 (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had their second wedding here in 1976) it sat empty from 1977 to 1983 during the Zimbabwe unrest. The lodge sits on the banks of the Chobe River and I can see elephants grazing off in the distance. Chobe is home to Africa's largest concentration of elephants estimated at 50,000 or more (this is actually a bit of a problem as it is too many for the land to sustain), I expect to have many opportunities to watch these magnificent beasts over the coming days.

As for Botswana, I am wishing we had more time here and I think it means we will back to Africa. The country is 580,000 sq km (Chobe is 11,400 of that) and is one of the world's least densely populated countries. About 70% of the country is formed by the Kalahari Desert. Another 37% (about the size of New Zealand) has been set aside for National Parks. The major contributor to the economy is mining, diamonds to be exact. DeBeers has it's headquarters in Botswana's capital, Gaborone. The second largest contributor is tourism and recently (2013) opened the Kasane airport to help increase tourism (we will be flying out of Kasane in a few days).

Random comment, brought up because Botswana prides itself on eco-tourism (or at least advertises the heck out of it). So far for the last couple weeks, every bathroom (except I think two) I have been has NOT provided paper towel. Either hand towels (washable) if a private facility or hand dryers if at public facility. The lodges predominately use refillable containers for their lotions, shampoos and conditioners, not take-away. Water, both still and sparkling is provided in reusable glass bottles and not plastic. When it comes to small contributing to being environmentally responsible in my limited experienc South Africa, Zambia and Botswana are kicking Canada's ass.

We are now nestled on the balcony on rooms, listening to the birds (so many birds in Africa and bugs, so many weird bugs, warm and humid = many, many bugs) awaiting our 3:30 sunset river cruise (hoping to watch some more hippos).

Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 08:52 Archived in Zambia

The Smoke that Thunders

semi-overcast 30 °C

It is Monday, I think. We have finally reached the point where we no longer remember which day of the week it is. I have started my fourth book and Ger his third (all time record for him). Dad needs a new book, all a good sign to me of a good combination of activity and downtime to enjoy our vacation. When Ger and I first started really traveling we used to try to do and see as much as we could and at some point would inevitably crash and return home exhausted. We have learned that we will never see or do everything so now we back the pace off and make sure we have downtime to relax and enjoy the surroundings in-between activities.

Yesterday we awoke and waddled down to breakfast before our first activity of the day, a tour of Victoria Falls. We caught the shuttle (runs between the two hotels on this property) had a short game drive (basically down the driveway) and saw 3 giraffes, zebras and baboons. We arrived at the other hotel and started our five minute walk to the edge of the falls.

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Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya "The Smoke that Thunders" were first seen by David Livingstone ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume?) in 1855 and he named them after his Queen. Livingstone had come to Africa on a Christian Mission and became an integral part of this country's history, so much so, his heart is buried here and his body in Westminister Abbey (we might have walked over his tomb a couple weeks ago!) While the falls are neither the highest, nor widest falls in the world, they are classified as the largest based on its height and width together (Finance 101 - if you manipulate the data enough you can always derive the answer you want). Victoria Falls are twice the height of Niagara (which I am embarrassed to say I have never seen but that will be rectified next year hopefully). The falls are at a volume right now that makes for fantastic viewing as we are leaving the dry season (May-Oct). During peak flows in April the spray from the falls will rise over 400m (the 'Smoke', which is visible from 48 km away) making it tough to see the actual falls. The Falls were formed from volcano activity which pushed up basalt rock while the cracks between the rock became filled with sandstone. Several million years of erosion has created the magnificent gorges that make up the falls. The geologists can already see another gorge forming north of the Victoria Falls and predict in a million years Victoria Falls will actually move north.

The Falls fall both in Zambia (1.2 km of the falls are in Zambia) and Zimbabwe (500 meters or so) and can be seen from both countries. The Victoria Falls Bridge which crosses the Second Gorge of the falls links the two countries and is called no-mans land itself (there are border points on each side of it). The bridge was the idea of Cecil Rhodes and were part of his grand and unfulfilled Cape to Cairo railway. The bridge is now likely most famous for bungee jumping (an activity I am going to happily skip!).

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After returning to the hotel we each curled up with a book and read. Mom had a couple visitors on her balcony including mother monkey who was nursing her baby. It is so surreal to watch nature this closely. We headed out for our afternoon activity which was a cruise down the Zambezi River.

The Zambezi River is the 4th largest river in Africa, is one of the only rivers in the world that flows west to east and starts with a natural spring. It starts in Zambia, flows through eastern Angola, Namibia, Botswana, back to Zambia and Zimbabwe onto Mozambique before it empties in the Indian Ocean. The cruise left the jetty and sailed 3 or 4 km upstream and while sitting back drinking beer and wine (the motto on the cruise was "drink more, see more") we watched the hippos play in the water. It was an awesome way to sit back and enjoy the lush scenery.

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The River also plays an integral part to Zambia's wealth (we have been told Zambia is a jewel in Africa due to it's natural resources, Copper, Agriculture and Hydro). The river will allow this country to develop another resource, hydro-power, enough that it hopes to be able to export to it's neighbours.

Today we awoke late (or at least Ger and I did) and met my folks at 10ish to walk back down to the falls to walk another trail for another view and a good look at Victoria Falls Bridge. A small stop at a local crafts mall (aka lots of tourist junk and aggressive salesmen) before returning to our hotel to sit on the river bank and enjoy a local beer, Mosi (Ger had a Windhock from Namibia for Mr. Miller).

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I am now sitting on my balcony watching it 'Africa rain' after an 'African hot' morning. Hoping it lets up a little (it is absolutely pouring) for our afternoon activity, safari on an elephant!

Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 03:56 Archived in Zambia

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